Help Prevent the Demolition of the Kiley-Barnes Designed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Burlington, VT’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is slated for demolition and the public’s help is needed to prevent this from happening. A special meeting on January 11, 2023, of the city's Development Review Board could determine the fate of the site.
The Cathedral is a significant collaboration between two extremely important and influential postwar designers: Edward Larrabee Barnes (architect) and Daniel Urban Kiley (landscape architect). Moreover, it is a rare extant Vermont commission by Kiley, an internationally revered practitioner, who lived and worked in Charlotte, VT. The Cathedral is also a memorial of sorts as it was built on the site of the original 1860s gothic Cathedral, which was lost to an arsonist’s fire in 1972.
In 2012 The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) included the Cathedral in the report and digital exhibition Landscape and Patronage, which focused “on visionary patrons and organizations and the sites they helped create.” The report cited the Diocese’s “bold choice to construct the new, modern cathedral and Modernist landscape” on the site of the former Cathedral. It added: “Instead of relocating to a suburban location or settling for an uninspired replacement building, the Diocese remained committed to serving the downtown area and enhancing the urban environment with its new facility.”
Of the collaboration between Kiley and Barnes, and as context for the Burlington commission, the report states: “The two had a long-standing working relationship, having collaborated previously on several projects, among them the Osborne House, Vermont (1954) and the W.D. Richards Elementary School, Columbus, Indiana (1965). Kiley and Barnes would later go on to produce several significant designs, including that for the Dallas Museum of Art, Texas (1983) and housing for the Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana (1984).”
Barnes and Kiley’s close collaboration can be seen, in part, in the interplay between color and form - the cathedral’s low, dark green glazed brick walls and soaring copper roof juxtaposed against the light green foliage and dark trunks of the locust trees. Viewed together, the structure and landscape blend harmoniously to create a peaceful and inviting public space that anchors the center of downtown Burlington. Moreover, Kiley’s design is reminiscent of his work at the Miller House and Garden in Columbus, IN, his widely acclaimed residential masterpiece and international Modernist icon now owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The report notes: “the placement of trees in the cathedral’s landscape creates a unique spatial experience for visitors, elongating and extending the viewer’s sense of boundary yielding a site that feels distinctly removed from its urban setting despite being situated at a busy intersection.”
Due to declining membership, the Cathedral closed in 2018. Nevertheless, given the history and significance of the Cathedral, it is unfortunate that the Diocese is contemplating its demolition. Doing so would erase an important chapter not just in the history of the Catholic church, but in the city of Burlington as a whole. Advocates are calling for the Diocese to find a way to adapt the Cathedral for a new use that would serve the community in the 21st century and to let it continue to function as a vital piece of Burlington’s varied and unique downtown fabric. Demolition now would eliminate any possibility of adaptive reuse, and this is too important a property to risk losing.
Preservation Burlington, a local non-profit preservation group, is advocating for the adaptive reuse of the Cathedral building, supplemented with appropriate new construction that respects the existing building and landscape. On December 13, 2022, the city's Design Advisory Board voted unanimously against demolition; but as the group's title suggest, their role is advisory only. The city's Development Review Board will meet on January 11, 2023, and the public is encouraged to submit comments. The public can also view the hearings live online.
The agenda and a link to the live hearing will be posted on the Development Review Board's website.
If you have not already done so, please contact the following and reference “ZP-22-576 / Demolition Permit Application for Burlington Cathedral”:
Ms. Mary O’Neil, AICP
Principal Planner for Development Review
Zoning Division of the Department of Permitting and Inspection
City of Burlington
149 Church Street
Burlington, VT 05401
Msgr. Peter Routhier (Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington) email@example.com
Rev. Msgr. John McDermott (Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington) firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Miro Weinberger (City of Burlington) email@example.com
Joe Magee (Burlington City Council) firstname.lastname@example.org
Perri Freeman (Burlington City Council) email@example.com
Brian Pine (Burlington Community & Economic Development Office) firstname.lastname@example.org
Samantha Dunn (Burlington Community & Economic Development Office) email@example.com
To learn more about the adaptive reuse, please visit www.divine20pine.com/advocacy.
Read letters of support for the Cathedral written by Charles Birnbaum at The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Toshiko Mori at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, Jennifer Gaugler at the Society of Architectural Historians, Dietrich Neumann at Docomomo, Rob Nieweg at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Lauren Bricker at CalPoly Pomona, and Olga Touloumi at BARD.